On today’s front page, in headline type so large that a legally blind patient taking an eye exam could read it, we share some extremely disconcerting news. It has to do with the risks the country is facing because of its inaction on more than 800 dormant permanent residence (PR) applications.
A Grand Court judge this week granted an applicant access to judicial review to determine whether monetary damages should be awarded because of the three-year delay in the immigration process.
To be more precise, the story to which we refer concerns an expatriate accountant, Bradley Carpenter, who applied for PR in October 2013.
During the time that he and his wife were waiting … waiting … waiting … for their application to be considered, suddenly he found his “permission to continue working” status had been changed to a “visitors” permit (i.e. unable to work). He then did the sensible thing — he lawyered up and filed a legal challenge.
Last week, just four days prior to the court hearing, the government notified him that his PR application had been granted.
Regardless of the coincidental (yeah, right) timing of the approval, Mr. Carpenter pressed on and had his day in court Tuesday, with the legal complaint evolving into not “what” officials had done, but “how long” it took them to do it. Most importantly, Mr. Carpenter’s attorney is asking the court to determine whether Mr. Carpenter can claim monetary damages as a result of the delay.
It seems a perfectly germane question in light of the U.K. Privy Council’s judgment (in regard to a case from Antigua and Barbuda) that taking longer than one year to consider a citizenship application was “likely to be unlawful,” and the fact that Mr. Carpenter’s PR application sat stagnant for three years. The judge thought so, too, and allowed Mr. Carpenter’s suit to advance to a full hearing.
Here is the message the court’s action sends to the 800 or so people on the PR list, more than half of whom have been waiting for longer than the Privy Council’s “one year mark”: Under judicial pressure, the government suddenly approved PR for an applicant, who is now being allowed to seek monetary damages for his time spent in legal limbo.
(For the public treasury, this could quite quickly become quite costly. Although it is totally hypothetical and not in any way related to Mr. Carpenter’s case, say 500 people are granted permanent residence plus $100,000 in legal costs and compensatory damages apiece … That’s $50 million.)
Cayman’s queue of PR applicants is wrapping around the block. The government bouncer has now let one person into the exclusive club. Velvet ropes aren’t going to hold this crowd (some of whom are lawyers) for very long.
Premier McLaughlin and his government created this issue. They own it — and they will not be able to hold off addressing it until after the next election.
Their choices are limited: Will they decide to litigate each of the hundreds of cases, one by one, and (most likely) lose, one by one? Or will they litigate them all in a class-action-style suit, and (most likely) lose them all at once?
Some time ago, Mr. McLaughlin commissioned a study, authored by prominent attorney David Ritch, on the issue but promptly sealed the findings on the basis of “legal privilege.” The Compass is attempting to have the report made public via a Freedom of Information request, which Mr. McLaughlin and his government are resisting.
Putting the “Ritch Report” aside for the moment, we call on Mr. McLaughlin to share with his fellow Caymanians what he and his government intend to do regarding this impending threat not only to Cayman’s reputation — but to our treasury.